I know that I haven’t taken you to Antigua yet, but I want to talk some about the two places where I purchased the Guatemalan textiles and a bit about how these beautiful works of art are made. I learned so much from the websites for these businesses before we went and it gave me a new appreciation for and a better knowledge of the textiles that I would eventually purchase.
Nim P’ot (www.nimpot.com) – It took us awhile to locate this large, indoor marketplace because the entrance wasn’t readily apparent and not all the tourist information boothes scattered around Antigua actually knew anything about it! Finally, we honed in on it. It lies just past this beautiful arch on 5 Avenida Norte. This is one of t he main streets running on the west side of the central square in Antigua. For the length of the street on the weekends, moving north of the square, it is for pedestrian traffic only and there are vendors of many types – from henna tattoos to original paintings – that set-up or walk along this street.
Nim P’ot is a consignment store for indigenous suppliers which claims to be home to “the world’s largest retail Maya textile collection”. Additionally, they focus on preserving the Mayan cultural heritage and documenting the “evolution of Guatemalan textiles” through their website and this “retail” museum.
There were all types of items at this market including textiles, masks, carvings, paintings, antiques, etc. Of course, my focus was on the textiles and they had many, many forms of handmade textiles, all used and in various degrees of wear. So, let’s talk specifically about the beautiful, Backstrap woven textiles that make up the Mayan traje (trah-hay – traditional clothing).
Backstrap weaving is an ancient form of weaving that has always been used by the Mayans. The Backstrap loom is “a simple loom comprised of two sticks or bars between which the warp threads are stretched. One bar is attached to a fixed object and the other to the weaver usually by means of a strap around the back. The weaver leans back and uses their body weight to tension the loom. Both simple and complex textiles can be woven on this loom. Width is limited to how far the weaver can reach from side to side to pass the shuttle”. (From Wikipedia – Loom, Section 3-Types of Looms, 3.1-Back strap loom)
Brocade work is done simultaneously while weaving. Brocade is produced by weaving in supplemental colored fibers (cotton, rayon, metallic, wool) in intricate patterns along with the weft threads. The purpose is to give the appearance of embroidery on ground fabric.
The weavers (generally women) work with specific patterns, colors and embellishments which are identifiable to their villages. The intricacy of a piece is part of the weaver’s individual artistic expression and a showcase for their skills. The most lavish brocading is found on the huipil (ooo-WEE-peel). This is a tunic or blouse-like garment. It can take many months to complete a complex huipil. “Through the choices of design, material and finishing technique, information can be read about the weaver’s birth-place, religious background, social position, weaving skill, and personality. Indigenous women can read the complex encoded messages in each other’s huipiles at a glance.”(From Nim P’ot website). Additionally, hand embroidery is often used to connect the lengths of woven fabrics, embellish sleeve caps & neck openings and, in some villages, for the entire design on the huipil.
I ended up purchasing 5 huipiles, 2 belts (fajas), 4 scarves, 2 kitschy wall hangings and 3 “tablecloths” at Nim P’ot. I’ll go into greater detail on each later on.